Conserving the past

Conserving the past

By MATTHEW WAGNER
September 30, 2009 15:49
shepherd kibbutz hanaton 248.88

shepherd kibbutz hanaton 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

It might sound anachronistic but the Masorti (Conservative) Movement has decided to revive a kibbutz in the Galilee once near demise. Socialist ideals associated with kibbutz living, such as mutual responsibility and connection to the soil - considered a thing of the past for most Israelis living in the post-Zionist era - are being combined with non-Orthodox religious practices such as gender-equal prayer and liberal Jewish thought to create a unique fusion of American-style Judaism and Israeliness. Women, wearing talitot and reading from the Torah, can celebrate their Judaism in this bucolic setting. Secular Israelis interested in more Yiddishkeit but unwilling to adhere to Orthodox strictures can find it in a social activist environment. Surprisingly or not, the initiative has drawn interest. "We have about 10 new families already living on the kibbutz in addition to eight families that already lived here," says Yaniv Gliksman, director of Marom Israel, the movement's organization for students and young adults. "And we have another 10 families on waiting list." The kibbutz's name is Hanaton and it was originally established in 1984 by immigrants from the US who belonged to the Conservative Movement. They were later joined by immigrants from South Africa, South America and Canada. However, the launching of the kibbutz coincided with the financial collapse of the kibbutzim in the 1980s. Over the years Hanaton has barely managed to survive. In 1997 the United Kibbutz Movement sent a group of men and women in their 20s, graduates of the Hano'ar Ha'oved Vehalomed youth movement, to revitalize the kibbutz and transform it into an educational center. But the veteran members opposed the move. About two years ago the Conservative Movement, which viewed Hanaton as an important asset, made a strategic decision to invest money and thought into a kibbutz renaissance. As part of this, the kibbutz had to be partially privatized, which entailed enabling private ownership of kibbutz houses and more economic freedom for members. "We see the resuscitation of Hanaton as an important goal to which we have been devoting a lot of resources," says Yizhar Hess, CEO and executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel. "Hanaton will serve as a testing ground for our conviction that the Masorti Movement is a bridge between secular and religious." The privatization of Hanaton was opposed by the United Kibbutz Movement, which has tried to block the move. Meanwhile, Hess says that with help from the Conservative Movement in the US and especially the Metro-West Jewish federation in New Jersey, hundreds of thousands of shekels have been invested in the kibbutz and in an educational center located on it. Yoav Ende was chosen to serve as rabbi of Hanaton. He represents the first generation of sabra rabbis who grew up in the Masorti Movement. He went to a TALI elementary school, he was a counselor in the Noam youth movement, he served in the movement's Nahal military unit and he received his ordination from the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem. Now he is back on the kibbutz where he was stationed in 1994 when he was a soldier. Ende, 33 and a father of three, is communicative, ambitious and smart. He sounds passionate about the idea to revive Hanaton. But why would he and more than a dozen young families invest their energies in rebuilding a failed kibbutz, a remnant harking back to a time when the country was idealistic and socialist? "People are looking for meaning," says Ende. "When I first started making phone calls to friends to interest them in the possibility of rebuilding Hanaton, they got excited about the idea of creating a society based on togetherness and mutual responsibility. It was as if I was sparking an unfulfilled dream shared by a lot of people." WHAT HANATON has to offer is not for everyone. Religiously speaking, prospective residents have to identify with a type of Jewish practice more common in America than here. Residents of a small neighborhood on the outskirts of the kibbutz who are private home owners have almost nothing to do with Hanaton. On Shabbat and holidays they prefer to drive to an Orthodox synagogue rather than visit Hanaton's minyan, which features mixed seating of men and women and fully integrates women into all aspects of the services, from leading prayers to reading from the Torah. "Israelis from outside the kibbutz do not connect to the style of prayers we have here," says Rabbi Haviva Ner-David, considered the first woman to ever be ordained as an Orthodox rabbi. She and her husband, Jacob, managing partner of Jerusalem Capital I, a venture capital fund, decided to move to Hanaton. "One woman who looked totally secular came for Purim. She was totally shocked to see a woman reading the megila. She couldn't deal with it." Ronen Hazan and his wife Karin are the only couple from the neighborhood who have developed a strong connection with the kibbutz. "We first moved up here because we were looking for a tight-knit community where people interacted and helped each other," recalls Ronen. "But we were quickly disenchanted. Everybody kept to themselves. I did not have to come all the way to Galilee for that. I had that type of environment in Tel Aviv." Gradually the Hazans discovered the kibbutz. Now they want to move in. "At first it was a little difficult for my wife to get accustomed to the prayers. She grew up in an Orthodox home. But she gradually became used to it. For me it was easier. I come from a completely secular background but want to maintain a strong connection to my Judaism. Hanaton was perfect for me." The other obstacle to overcome in the move to the kibbutz is financial. Buying an old kibbutz house and becoming member costs close to NIS 400,000. And an additional NIS 200,000 in refurbishing costs to make the house liveable are needed. Also, a lot of money needs to be invested to revamp some of the kibbutz's dilapidated buildings. For instance, the only mikve owned by the Masorti Movement is located on the kibbutz. However, it is in relatively bad shape and seriously needs to be refurbished. So does the synagogue. In addition, the kibbutz provides no jobs. Most members are educators who work in local schools. There are also a few lawyers, hi-tech people employed in the nearby Haifa area or Yokne'am and a few private business owners. Some, like Ronen, who works in Internet advertising and branding, make the hour and a half commute to Tel Aviv. But perhaps the most difficult obstacle to the success of Hanaton is a bitter, ongoing battle for control being waged by the Masorti Movement against the United Kibbutz Movement. Presently more than a dozen members of Hano'ar Ha'oved Vehalomed occupy the houses on the kibbutz. During the day they volunteer, study and work outside the kibbutz. At night they return to party and sleep. "By occupying the houses, they are preventing families from moving in to Hanaton. But at the same time they have no real connection with the kibbutz, while they take advantage of its assets," says Gliksman. In response, the kibbutz movement says, "Unfortunately due to the ongoing tension, the future of Kibbutz Hanaton is being debated in court. Nevertheless, the kibbutz movement is obligated to protect the rights of the members of Hano'ar Ha'oved Vehalomed who have been on the kibbutz for the past 12 years and who wish to integrate into kibbutz life. "The kibbutz movement is interested in seeing Hanaton remain a kibbutz and it is obligated to protect the rights of the kibbutz members. We hope a compromise will be found which will allow Hanaton to remain a kibbutz." Ende is convinced that the Masorti Movement will take over control of Hanaton. "We are revitalizing the kibbutz and turning it into a vibrant educational and spiritual center. It is only a matter of time before we convince everyone that we are the rightful owners of Hanaton."


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